CHARLESTON, SC (WMBF) – The surviving members of a Canadian couple and their infant son who were killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 95 near Florence in 2015 were awarded a $17 million verdict in a trial against the driver of the 18-wheeler that crashed into the couple's car, and the trucking companies that employed the driver.
Jeremiah Cross, 34, a private in the Canadian Army, his 32-year-old wife Crystal Cross, and their 7-month-old son Grayson Cross, all from Ontario, were killed in the crash when their 2008 Honda SUV, which was in slowed traffic due to road construction, was stuck by an 18-wheeler traveling 70 miles per hour. The tractor-trailer impacted several other vehicles before coming to stop, also killing Jacqueline McCann, 51, and Barry Himes, 52, both from Johnstown, PA.
The plaintiffs allege that the driver ignored signs warning about the upcoming construction and speed limit reduction, keeping the truck in cruise control at 70 miles per hour. There were no visible skid marks or signs that the driver attempted to slow the 18-wheeler before the crash. The plaintiffs alleged that the driver of the 18-wheeler was impaired by alcohol at the time of the crash. A spokesperson for the trucking company deputes this, stating alcohol was not a factor in the accident.
"The damage done was unimaginable. In nearly 30 years of practicing injury law, this was easily one of the worst crashes I've seen. Just horrific," said Atty. Mark C. Joye, Head of the Litigation Department at Joye Law Firm and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "The sight of the burnt, twisted metal and smoldering ashes was more fitting for a war zone, than an interstate highway."
The driver and the companies that operated the truck, XPO Logistics, Inc. and XPO Express, Inc., were all named as defendants in the trial, according to a news release from the Joye Law Firm, who represented surviving members of the Cross family. XPO is one of the largest ten trucking companies in the world.
"We're devastated for these families, and very sorry that this tragic accident occurred," a company spokesperson stated.
Attorneys for the victims alleged that the companies failed to properly train the driver and failed to ensure he met the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and state laws, the news release states.
Evidence presented at the eight-day trial in Charleston also showed that the driver and his co-worker attempted to hide evidence to alcohol used, and the at-fault driver refused to undergo alcohol testing, the release states.
"We will always feel alcohol played a role in this wreck," added Joye. "Nothing else makes sense to me as any driver paying attention to the road could not possibly ignore so many warning signs and proceed to plow into several vehicles at such a high rate of speed. The Defendant's actions immediately after the crash only further raised suspicion about what he was trying to hide."
An XPO spokesperson said that alcohol was not a factor in the accident; the police cited the driver for traveling too fast for conditions and released him at the scene.
The jury sided with the plaintiffs and directed the defendants to pay $17 million in actual damages, according to Joye Law Firm representatives. The highest settlement offered to the defendants before the verdict was $13 million.
"Our right to a civil trial by jury is guaranteed by the 7th Amendment. While the system isn't perfect, it is the only protection the public has from corporate greed and indifference to those they harm," said Atty. Mark J. Bringardner, an associate at Joye Law Firm and co-counsel to Atty. Mark C. Joye, in response to the verdict. "Today, that right was executed and upheld to the fullest extent. Our clients stood up to one of the largest trucking and insurance companies in the world and won."
The Cross family was on their way back home to Trenton, Ontario from a "dream vacation" at Disney World in Florida when the crash occurred on I-95 North at about 7:30 p.m. on March 21, 2015, the release states. Jeremiah Cross was recently stationed at the CFB Petawawa with the 2-Service Battalion, and was on paternity leave at the time of the crash to help raise his infant son.
"This crash and these deaths were preventable. It is tragic any time someone dies in an unnecessary and avoidable way, but it is especially troubling to have an entire family taken away because of someone else's careless and callous actions," explained Joye. "There is a hole in this family now, one that can never be repaired. Greysen will never have the chance to grow up, his parents will never have the opportunity to raise their son, and the sense of loss their surviving family members feel resulted in the most emotional day in a courtroom I've ever seen. No jury award can change that."